Mitt Romney gave his most detailed foreign-policy speech last week at the Virginia Military Institute, just in time for his forthcoming foreign-policy debate with Barack Obama. Romney’s focus on the Middle East in that address allows for a serious discussion about the similarities and differences between the policies of each candidate toward that region.
The Middle East was barely mentioned in Tuesday night’s debate. Romney said the President’s regional “strategy is unraveling before our very eyes,” listing Egypt, Iran, Israel, Libya and Syria, but before he could explain his position moderator Candy Crowley changed topics.
The October 22 foreign-policy debate, however, will give Obama and Romney ample opportunities to talk about the Middle East, and U.S. voters can hope moderator Bob Schieffer pushes the candidates to discuss real differences.
A look at candidates’ policy pronouncements to date shows remarkable similarities in security policies toward the Middle East, while the two men differ on how to manage relationships in the region.
Prior to the consulate attack in Benghazi last month, Iran was one of the few foreign-policy issues raised in this election campaign. Appearing on Meet the Press on September 9, Romney called the Obama administration’s handling of the Iranian nuclear program perhaps its biggest failure.
However, the Romney campaign hasn’t laid out a path appreciably different from Obama-administration actions.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Romney said the United States must “restore its credibility with Iran,” a point he and his surrogates often make. But restoring credibility is a strategy, not a policy, and the Romney camp has failed to outline the policies that would restore U.S. credibility.
A “red line” that would trigger U.S. action against Iran became a major issue when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the United States clarify this marker. The president said: “The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
In a September 14 interview with ABC News, Romney agreed specifically that his red line was the same as the president’s. However, since then he and his surrogates have differentiated their red line by saying Iran should not have the “capability” to produce nuclear weapons, although the meaning of “capability” remains fuzzy.
Prime Minister Netanyahu also has emphasized that Iran should not be allowed to have the capability for a nuclear weapon, but top Romney surrogate Eliot Cohen has said that where Romney draws the line “could be in a different place than Mr. Netanyahu draws it.”